retro

Whaaaaaaaaaaaaaaat's Happening?

Um, yeah.  Riiight.

Yeah, so this space has gone unused for a while, and for good reason.  Danté and I are no longer collaborating, not even talking much.  (We're not on bad terms right now per say, but a wedge had long since been driven.)  And as for me...  Well, I've been procrastinating WAY too much.

But I'm gearing up again.

I'm planning a new story, one which I'll most likely write as a novel.  Yes, a novel, not a screenplay...  But I have a plan.  This particular story would be extremely hard to sell as a screenplay, as it would require a hefty production budget.  Of course, that also makes it a poor candidate to film indie-style.  However, since a novel is its own production, it shouldn't be any harder to sell than an intimate character drama.  (Easier, perhaps.)  And I think book publishing itself is considerably less competitive than filmmaking or screenwriting.  So my plan is to first get the book published, and make sure I reserve the screenwriting rights for myself.  Then, the story already being "tested" in one medium, it might be easier to get it optioned as a film, and that's my in.

(continued in private)

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Jean Pierre Jeunet

 "Sacre Bleu!  I just put in Amelie again. Watched half of it, realized I would never make it through this late, and fastforwarded to recapture some of the ending. It is oh so early to believe it, but something tells me this may be top the list of favorite films.  Shawshank? Can it compete? I don't know. But something tells me it is going to be lasting. It may very well become the most influential film. Look what it's helped with already... my creative juices have been envigorated and flow in amounts I scarcely remember having before. As of yet my hands haven't kept up on the keyboard, but my mind has been fluttering like the blue fly, down avenues and streets I've never seen."  - Me, two and a half years ago.

And here I am today.  Amélie is indeed my all-time favorite film, and though I haven't watched it in months, I feel as though I could recite nearly the whole film in my mind.  I'm sure I could speak the English translations, reading along to the film without subtitles.

And, having just finished watching A Very Long Engagement with the commentary track, I find myself similarly inspired.  Not to say that the film will become another favorite--though a splendidly made film, it just doesn't tug at my heartstrings as Amélie does.  But to hear Jeunet comment on his film, on the techniques involved and the homages to Leone and Kubrick and Speilberg, and to hear the obvious-yet-modest pride he takes in his accomplishments, scene by scene...  It just inspires me to want to do the same.

I feel like I've been on a bit of a creative surge in the past week or two, not actively so, but at least in terms of inspiration.  I read Brave New World nonstop (and, despite my complaints, was captivated enough not to become distracted) and am now working on 1984.  And I find myself more inspired, often with ideas not at all related to what I'm reading.  (I'm also dreaming much more vividly than I have in years...  Weird, huh?)  And now I'm even more inspired by Jeunet.  Last time I felt this way, it led to 30 pages of Day's End (which I have since decided to rewrite) and about as much of Goldfield.  Now I know I must make more use of my inspiration, and/or find ways to prolong it.  I may yet become a heavy book-reader.  :-P

Once work starts back up, it should be rather slow for a few weeks, so as soon as I finish 1984 I ought to get right on with writing.  Perhaps writing 2076 in a different format, I should try a different approach...  Less plotted, more open-ended.  I feel more comfortable with the idea this time around.  Being bigger than Day's End, it doesn't require so many tie-ins, such symmetrical story arcs.  Ooh, I like feeling creative.  It's nice.  I should be off to bed, though.  G'nite!
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Evolution of Crane



Darwin would be proud, were he a 21st century indie filmmaker.

I've worked out a basic design for a crane with a built in tilt mechanism, so a high crane shot will tilt the camera down toward the ground and vice versa. It might not look very effective as shown above, but it's just a matter of scale... making the arms longer relative to the size of the camera. I'm not entirely sure how stable this design would be as is, but it's certainly something to work from.
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Howdy Owdy, Buckaroos!

Dante and I spent all day Saturday doing early location scouting to see where we'd shoot. We started by heading east, to Goldfield Ghost Town and Apacheland Movie Ranch. Then, on the suggestion of Dante's fiance Sarah (as well as a Goldfield townsman), we drove up to Tortilla Flat. We were hoping since it was so far away that it'd be this perfect, isolated, untouched ghost town, but instead it was the tiniest, silliest little tourist attraction, swamped with people.

After a brief return to Goldfield, we headed out to the other side of the valley. We hoped to check Cow Town and Pioneer Villiage, but we got some bogus directions from MapQuest and ended up in Wickenberg. So, we'll have to go back and look at the other two spots next weekend, but honestly, Goldfield is looking like the strongest contender right now. It's got a very rustic look to it, as opposed to bright "paint-your-wagon" colors as the new Apacheland is. Plus, it's a real town--well, rebuilt, anyhow--with its own history, however little that may be. Goldfield could easily provide the identity for the film's town... Maybe even the title. Between that and the connections I have there, I think it's a good bet.
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Sons of Guns!

Yee-haw!

...ok. Now then, went to a concert with Danté last night. The concert was cool, but much more significant was our discussion about the story for the western, and what I'd thought of (and written about previously). When we got in the car, he expressed that he was "not very enthusiastic" about doing a western, but less than four hours later, he was stoked and ready to shoot. (Down, boy!)

At present, there are three interwoven plots to this film:

1) The Town Crisis - This one has yet to be fleshed out, but will serve as the cultural backdrop and general catalyst for the other plots.

2) Brothers and Friends - The four main characters begin as best friends, an imseperable camraderie. In a short span of time, however, their values are put to the test, and friends find themselves on opposite sides of issues--and guns.

3) The Texas Kid's Gun - Inspired by a true family story. The sons' father once rode with a man who went by the name of The Texas Kid. The Kid was killed and robbed by some lowlifes many years back, and his guns were among the stolen loot. His friend, the father, recovered one of the pistols. However, unable to find the other, he's always felt The Kid wasn't able to rest peacefully. His sons inadvertently carry on his quest for the gun.
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Nobody's seen Costner hangin' around here, has he?

(Just kidding... His westerns are alright, he just needs an aggressive editor.)

Yay. Story ideas are forming. I think I'm going to set it in the later days of the "wild" west, when it's getting pretty tame by conventional standards. Nothing new there, but most westerns with that setting usually involve some old cowboy who feels out of time, and proceeds to spend three hours moping about and not doing that awful much. Well, this story is about that aging cowboy's sons. They are the future of the west; they've grown up with the territories, and are more resistent to their father's old ways than the "times that are a-changing". They believe more in the new written laws than the supposedly dated code their father lived by. As they begin to live their own lives, however, and as civilization catches up to the west and cultures meet head on, the boys realize that the code isn't specific to any time or place, but is universal.
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For a Fistful of DV Tapes

New plan.

Though I love and plan to do Day's End, Fall Semester, and Trip eventually, we have decided to go, first and foremost, with a western. Yes, that's right film fans, cringe... I said, "a western"! Let me explain.

1. We live in Arizona. There are more old-west show towns out here than you can shake a stick at, and since most of them aren't having much business these days, we think it should be relatively easy to be able to shoot at one. We're not talking Old Tuscon or something, but maybe Gold Field Ghost Town or Apache Land (the latter of which was the location used for Charro and Blind Justice). So locations: easy.

2. My dad is a bigtime old west aficionado. He is a big fan of westerns but is knowledgeable enough to point out errors in consistency and authenticity. He's a "cowboy action shooter", which means he likes to cowboy up and go shooting with authentic replica revolvers and rifles. At a point in his life, he was even an actor at many of the aforementioned show towns, including sheriffing at Apache Land. I haven't spoken to him yet, but I am extremely confident he will be enthusiastic in helping us with this project.

But perhaps the most motivating factor in this decision...

3. The Western genre has been, overall, stale and stifling for the past few generations. Much of that can be attributed to a decrease in interest, but much was brought on by the Western filmmakers themselves. It's no big revelation to point out how cliché most plots tend to be with the genre, and pacing is a big problem as well. Because westerns are relatively unpopular these days, the genre has managed to avoid the uber-marketing pains Hollywood has imposed most everyplace else. (In simple terms, most westerns don't require $20 million advertising budgets.) Out thinking, then, is that it would not be hard to get a western picked up by a distributor, and get some recognition. If our western would happen to be a good one, especially relative to the norm (which whe feel will not be at all difficult), then we could quite easily make names for ourselves and move on as established filmmakers into other genres.

That's the plan, anyhow... More later.
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Eat My Shorts

Went over to Dante's and discussed the short film idea with Dante. (Hopefully he'll be contributing here in a few days.) He seemed to be cool with it, but not terribly enthusiastic, I suppose because I didn't have any good ideas in mind yet.

My first idea was "First Man's Solitude", this weird pseudo-interpretation of an early passage of Genesis. It'd be artsy and kinda cool, I think, but maybe not a huge draw. So this morning I was thinking, and thought, "Hey, what if we started just filming ordinary situations using interesting cinematography, and then maybe have some poetic voiceover on top of it? Artsy, simple, and easy to experiment with.
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Rock & Roll

In reading some articles about independent films getting noticed, it's quickly becoming clear that doing so, getting picked up and distributed, is becoming more and more difficult, largely because Hollywood has become so much more "conglomerated" over the past two decades. (Ah, The Hard C's of Reality... Conformity, Conglomeration, Consumerism...) Marketing costs are almost as important--if not more so--as production costs for films, and there are no real shortcuts to marketing. None that will get you sold.

At least not yet.

A lot of people hail the Internet as the savior for film distribution, but the problem is, you can't make money by sitting your feature-length film on a website and allowing people to download it. In fact, that would cost a ton of money for bandwidth. The success of Internet-aided distribution will require a whole new business model.

What if an independent film company acted like an indie rock group? Street teams, audio samples, and other freebies on their website, and so forth... That works well for bands because the visitors know they can't replace the best part of it--seeing the band in concert. Well, how can we apply that to film?

Shorts. Very, very short short films. I will call them "two dollar hookers", because they should cost no more than $2 per production (excluding camera, tapes, and editing equipment, which can be reused), they will "hook" visitors with very interesting or profound messages or images, and we'll ask those who like them to donate on $2 increments. We're talking films that will be about five minutes in length, will feature the filmmakers, family, and friends (and eventually, street team members!) in place of contracted actors... Films rich in theme and cinematics, despite the short running time and low production values.

What's the point in doing this? To fight the system! (Ok, this time without sounding like a maniac...) Filmmakers, even independent filmmakers, have fallen into the Hollywood paradigm, i.e. a film must be between 90 and 120 minutes, should have professional lighting, sound design, etc. By striving to compete with Hollywood production values despite shoestring budgets, I believe indies have stifled their creativity and, moreso, their stability and longevity. Even short filmmakers seem to be trapped in a "Sundance channel" paradigm, thinking their films must be 20-30 minutes long and focus around some silly situational irony.

Our "two dollar hooker" films will be perfectly adapted to generating local and online interest for our production company. They will be extremely inexpensive to produce, extremely inexpensive to publish online, and won't be a major sacrifice to internet piracy and availability as it would be to electronically distribute a feature-length or even a 30-minute short film.

I'm pretty excited about this idea now that I've thought of it, even though it's not exactly "my thing" to make shorts. (I do prefer some form of dramatic structure, which is hard to provide in a short film.) I think it will really encourage creativity on my behalf as a filmmaker, and will require the audience to use its imagination for interpretation, something films don't do enough of. Plus, I can have some fun with it, take some risks, and make a few stinkers.